There are a number of areas relating to health
and safety in printmaking and this section is
meant only as an introduction to the main issues.
Furthermore there are also environmental issues
to be considered such as recycling (paper,
printer cartridges, waste water from rinse baths
for starters) and safe disposal of chemicals
(neutralizing acids and pouring solvents into
waste rags and not down the sink!).
Oh, and NEVER eat or drink near your process areas...
goes without saying really!
With mezzotint you might think that the only issue may stem from stabbing yourself with the sharp end of the scraper! However there are a number of other important issues to be aware of.
RSI/Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Firstly there is a concern for either RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) or even CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) both of which carry serious consequences. RSI comes from single repeated movements over prolonged periods of work without proper rest and relaxation of the affected muscles. It can result in permanent damage. Regards CTS, it has been suggested that certain activities that involve repeated flexion (bending) of the wrist may cause the median nerve in the wrist to become inflamed and may therefore be a risk factor, again without proper breaks for relaxation and exercise to counter the effects of such work.
Infection. Another area to watch for is the creation of copper dust from scraping plates. Not enough is ever created to cause an inhalation problem but getting the dust into broken skin can turn septic. Always wash your hands after handling copper.
Solvents. There are specific risks from solvents that are used to clean mezzotint plates after printing. Although printing ink can be cleaned from intaglio plates with vegetable oil this is definately not recommended for mezzotint plates as the mezzotint ground is too deep and complex to allow for the ink and remaining oil to be fully washed out. Further more, vegetable oil remaining in the plate will trap grit (and copper shavings if more scrapping is being done). This will damage your plate when you next ink it up. Remaining oil will also dry out and clog up the plate. Unfortunately white spirits is best as it floods the ink out and will then evaporate from the plate. It needs to be used with adequate ventilation, a fume mask and rubber gloves.
Printing mezzotints or etchings carries its own risks such as injury from unsafe use of printing machinery and bad studio housekeeping. In most cases common sense (and training where necessary) should be adequate.
Inks should only be handled with rubber gloves as they contain a wide range of poisonous and carcinogenic metal compounds and pigments such a s carbon in blacks or lead, zinc and chrome for example in colours. Powder pigments are to be avoided if possible and should only ever be handled with the additional use of a proper mask for hazardous dusts to prevent inhalation.
In addition to the hazards of inking and printed outlined above, etching has additional hazards where solvent based varnishes and grounds are used to protect the plate along with acids and mordants for etching.
Nitric acid is highly corrosive and gives off corrosive fumes which can also cause tooth enamel decay, pulmonary oedema and respiratory complications. For all etching solutions, eye protection, rubber gloves and ventilation where necessary must be used.
Iron (Ferric) Chloride, known as a "safe etch" for emitting no fumes is still highly corrosive. For all etching solutions, eye protection, rubber gloves and ventilation where necessary must be used.
Other methods for etching or the use of acrylic resists are available and could well be considered as safer methods for the user.
Consideration should always be given to those working near you as you may be exposing them to hazards even if you yourself are protected.
Fortunately problems associated with working at a computer screen and keyboard for long periods of time are now well documented. But are we paying attention to the warnings regarding posture, eye/hand strain and the likes?
If you have a health and safety concern or a comment please get in touch.